Baraka: It’s not enough to just believe that Black and brown lives matter | Opinion

Posted Oct 13, 2020

By Ras J. Baraka

Newark has launched the “40 Acres and a Mule Fund” (NWK FAM Fund), with a goal of raising $100 million to help Black and Latinx small business owners. Mayor Ras Baraka says they are asking the corporations who have made billions of dollars within and near the city's borders to contribute.

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The knee on the neck of George Floyd was indeed metaphorical for the white supremacy and the depraved indifference of the new Jim Crow fueled by a legal infrastructure and social and economic system determined to strangle us to death. And while many Americans of all colors responded passionately to the police brutality and abuse of Black and brown people, I am reminded what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in his “The Other America” speech given at Stanford University almost exactly one year before he was assassinated:

(Our’s) is not merely a struggle against extremist behavior toward Negroes. And I’m convinced that many of the very people who supported us in the struggle in the South are not willing to go all the way now. I came to see this in a very difficult and painful way, in Chicago the last year where I’ve lived and worked. Some of the people who came quickly to march with us in Selma and Birmingham weren’t active around Chicago. And I came to see that so many people who supported morally, and even financially what we were doing in Birmingham and Selma, were really outraged against the extremist behavior of Bull Connor and Jim Clark toward Negroes, rather than believing in genuine equality for Negroes. And I think this is what we’ve got to see now, and this is what makes the struggle much more difficult.

Fifty-three years later, we face the same struggle today.

We can appreciate that we watch the NBA playoffs and see Black Lives Matter emblazoned on the court, or that the NFL is now sanctioning players to kneel during the National Anthem and to wear anti-racism patches on their uniforms, acknowledging that attacks on Colin Kapernick were unwarranted and that confusing anti-racism with being anti-American is racist in itself, or that almost every major corporation pledges that Black Lives Matter and calls for racial harmony on their websites and in their commercials.

But as Martin Luther King said, it is easy to be against extremism and outright ugly behavior, but it’s altogether different to actually believe in equity and equality and actively work for it.

This is why Newark has launched the “40 Acres and a Mule Fund” (NWK FAM Fund), to challenge those who call for harmony to now support genuine equality. This fund has a goal of raising $100 million to help Black and Latinx small business owners get started or grow, to empower these entrepreneurs of color so they can compete at increasingly higher levels, and we are asking the corporations who have made billions of dollars within our borders to contribute. We believe this fund will bring pride and prosperity to our city as a whole and to our minority business community in particular.

The NWK FAM Fund, co-managed by Invest Newark (the city’s economic development corporation) and New Jersey Community Capital, has raised $2 million and aims to raise $10 million before the end of the year. AT&T, Shaquille O’Neal, Panasonic, Carlos Medina, Nelson Mullins Law Firm, and New Jersey Community Capital, PSEG, and Popular Bank are the first of the investors and corporate partners.

We named the fund “40 Acres and Mule” as a reminder of the economic promise made to freed slaves at the end of the Civil War. The land was a share of the millions of acres of fertile soil seized from Southern plantation owners, land that the slaves had made extremely wealthy by using it to produce 75% of the world’s cotton. But the promise died with Abraham Lincoln. His successor, President Andrew Johnson, rescinded the deal, making it yet another example of America’s historical systematic racism.

This new fund will never erase the social and economic inequalities caused by such racism but it will put capital directly in the hands of Newark Black and Latinx business owners as a step in reducing the financial disparity we face.

In America’s ocean of prosperity, no one should be allowed to drown in poverty but gross economic disparity keeps Black and brown people down. A Forbes study showed that the country’s 400 richest families have more wealth than every Black household combined. The fortunes of three men at the top of that list — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffett — have more money worth more than 165 million Americans at the other end of the scale.

In New Jersey, we face one of the largest wealth gaps in the nation. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice published a study in 2020 that said the median net worth for a white family is more than $352,000, while it is just $7,300 for a Latino family and $6,100 for a Black family. In Newark, one-third of our people live in poverty, over 70% rent and almost half pay more than 30% of their income on housing alone.

As a city, we have offered assistance for housing and small business. We offer job training and homeownership incentives. But our efforts, though noble, are not nearly enough. We need the anchor institution and financial institutions of Newark that make huge profits in the footprint of our city and along its corridors to step up and open their arms to creating wealth equity by contributing to this fund.

We need it now. We need no more studies, no more small talk, no more moral support, no more white papers or feasibility studies.

We need equity capital. We need small business seeding. We need tools to build wealth and homeownership. We need to give Americans who have been purposefully and deliberately locked out of this economy for centuries, who have helped make this country rich and this state prosperous, to finally and fairly enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Ras J. Baraka is the mayor of Newark.

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published this page in News and Politics 2020-10-14 03:07:29 -0700